Washington adopts rule on Kittitas water draws

YAKIMA -- New groundwater withdrawals only will be allowed in upper Kittitas County if they are backed by senior water rights, until a groundwater study of the area is completed, the Washington state Department of Ecology on decided Wednesday in adopting a permanent rule.

The rule marks the latest step in a dispute between state and local officials over the availability of water east of the Cascades.

Last year, Ecology imposed a temporary moratorium on wells that are exempt from a permit.

These so-called exempt wells are allowed under the state groundwater code of 1945, at a rate of up to 5,000 gallons per day, for small industrial uses or domestic uses.

An unlimited amount of water from exempt wells may also be used to water livestock and for noncommercial watering of a half-acre lawn or garden.

Ecology argued the water being drawn by new developments in the area could impair water supplies for irrigators with senior water rights downstream and weaken streamflows for threatened and endangered fish.

The two sides have been negotiating in the months since without success.